He was born in a lower middle class family. He was sent to Bombay to make a better living. He found the first signs of discrimination in his own family in Bombay and went back to his village – Ali Peter John
However, there was the artist in him attracting and tempting him to come back to Bombay again.
He first took up a job at the age of 14 when he had to walk long distances to and fro to earn a monthly salary of Rs. 16 a month.
The artist had plans for him and he joined the J.J school of art and was soon recognised as one of the prominent painters to specialise in drawing sketches of people.
This art was recognised by the Bombay Police who needed his help whenever they had to have a sketch made of a wanted criminal. And he was always successful.
The artist wanted to keep growing and this urge led him to take interest in Marathi theatre.
He worked as a background theatre worker or just a common worker and was associated with giants of Marathi theatre like Vijay Tendulkar, Vijaya Mehta, Dr. Sriram lagoo, Sushma Tendulkar, Sadashiv Amrapurkar and other known names.
He was in every play with the keenness of a student and knew the lines spoken by every character in a play.
There was a show in which an actor who was to play a key character was missing and he convinced Tendulkar and Vijaya Mehta that he could do the role. He did it and was a star at the end of the show. The artist had grown into a major theatre actor.
It was Smita Patil who had done a play called “Purush” with him who encouraged him to try his luck in cinema.
He shot to fame when he played one of the murderers in a film called “maaficha Saakshidar” in which critics said he was more real than the original murderers could be.
He did some other Marathi films till Smita Patil introduced him to B.R. Chopra who cast him as a villain in a film starring Raj Babbar and Smita. He received more applause and appreciation than Raj and Smita.
He found his first real big recognition in N. Chandra’s. “Ankush” which was a very small budget film which became a silver jubilee hit mainly because of his performance.
He repeated the same kind of a striking performance in Chandra’s two other films and was a star.
He decided to Direct a Hindi film called ” Prahaar” for which he as the director and the hero went through a grilling practice with real life commandos for two months. The film with Madhuri Dixit and other actors from Marathi films and theatre did not live upto his expectation and he decided never to direct a film again.
He played a very crucial point during the riots in Mumbai in 1993. He drove in an open jeep with a revolver in his hands to wherever there were riots between Hindus and Muslims and was also involved by the police to use his old hand at drawing sketches of criminals and terrorists.
The police had given him some kind of open hand to deal with criminals as he wanted and he made the best use of it. I was a witness to many of his daring exploits.
The next film he did, krantiveer was based on his exploits during the riots and the film turned him into a superstar of his own kind. The success of the film even made him lose his head as his critics said.
He spoke in the most abusive and insulting language to some of the leading producers and directors and asked them not to come anywhere close to him if they did not have a good script.
He had a turbulent family life. He separated from his Marathi actress wife Neelakanthi Patekar and his son, Malhar, who lived in his very old house across the tracks of the Mahim railway station.
He came to this original house only during the ten days during which the statue of lord Ganesha to his house.
These 10 days were the most solemn days in his life, a time when he did not work, he did not drink or smoke and refused to talk about business or sex.
He carried the statue of lord Ganesha himself to the sea where he immersed it after spending ten days with the statue without moving from it even for a minute and didn’t let even a petal fall from the statue.
His separation led him to have a number of affairs, the most prominent of which was his affair with Deepti Naval which according to many led to the separation between Deepti and her director/ husband Prakash Jha.
She was also said to be pregnant, but Nana did not want children and he made her have an abortion, which led her to paint her most famous painting called “the pregnant nun” which Dimple Kapadia bought for Rs 20,000.
Nana then had an affair with Deepti’s best friend, Manisha Koirala and used to treat her in the most horrifying manner, insulting her , abusing her and sometimes even making her prepare tea for his guests on a primus stove.
The affair ended after Manisha got married to a rich man from Nepal, which also ended within a short time.
And then she was diagnosed with cancer and there was no more talk of an affair between the two.
Nana has been involved in a number of social welfare activities, especially for his work for the drought hit farmer.
He lives like a farmer in his hut in Pune where he doesn’t have any modern amenities and works on his fields and gardens like any other farmer.
Nana has had his own ups and downs with politics and has never cared to be associated with any one political party but from the late Bal Thackeray who Sharad Pawar, he has been friends with all the major politicians of Maharashtra.
The last controversy involving him which made headlines all over was him being involved in the metoo movement when Tanushree Dutta accused him of harassing and molesting her during a shoot of a film ten years ago.
Nana seemed to have the government and the police on his side and is now free from all the charges levied against him.
And this is the Nana I had the opportunity to know sometimes when he used to burst into Marathi or Hindi poetry.
This is a song written by Javed Akhtar for one of his films called Wajood and it is the way he recites about a man’s love for his beloved that brings every line and word written by Javed Akhtar to life and the expression on Nana’s face when he recites these lines, is the expression which is very different from all the other Nana’s I know.
You are lucky if you can read these lines in Hindi, because translating them into any other language will make the poem lose its lustre.
I am sure you will be confused and find it difficult to pass judgement on the real Nana and knowing Nana as I know him for the last 30 years, I don’t think he will give anyone a chance to know the real Nana hidden in him.